COMMENTARY: NEW MIGRANTS ARE PILGRIMS, TOO
We’re nearing the end of a long, harrowing year in which Latinos have faced daily demonization. We’ve watched horrifying images of women and children from Mexico, Central and South America caged like animals at the border, and we have endured public humiliation and violence from people emboldened by President Donald Trump’s rancor toward virtually anyone who isn’t white and male.
Last week, the president released a Thanksgiving proclamation valorizing the pilgrims who arrived on Native American land to “establish a home in the New World” after facing “illness, harsh conditions, and uncertainty, as they trusted in God for a brighter future.” Days later, we saw American border patrol officers shooting rubber bullets at families massed at the border and seeking to exercise their legal right to plead for asylum.
Only the willfully blind could ignore the parallels between those white, angelic pilgrims of the past and the dusty, darkskinned migrants now walking from Honduras and other Central American countries to the U.S. border, telling reporters along the way they hoped Trump would “open the doors for us.”
Here we are, again gaping at photos of what sure looks like international human rights violations: U.S. Border Patrol guards shooting chemical weapons canisters into a crowd on the Mexican side of the shared border at Tijuana, as mothers choking on tear gas cover the faces of their babies and children still in diapers.
So much for “treating all with charity and mutual respect, spreading the spirit of Thanksgiving throughout our country and across the world.”
It is painful to see these events unfold, though there’s always the hope that such gruesome visuals will shock people into mustering an ounce of pity for those who are in such dire straits that they’ve put their faith in Trump’s capacity for compassion.
Considering that Trump ordered 5,200 troops to an already fortified border, what hope do Central Americans have? A sliver, at least.
For one, to the sizable pan-Hispanic population in the United States, the migrants we see on TV and in photos aren’t frightening or foreign — they look, act and sound like our families, our friends and our neighbors.
Migrants from south of the border have a proven track record of coming to the U.S. and not only thriving, but contributing to both the economy and our culture while simultaneously assimilating — seeing themselves as fully “American” — even while exhibiting pride in their heritage.
Most of all, we must remember that we are not impotent onlookers; we have some influence over what happens to these modern-day pilgrims at our border.
“Every day Americans have to stand up and say, ‘I am a leader in my community and I think this is wrong,’” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the nonpartisan National Immigration Forum. “Americans have to press their institutional leaders — go to their pastors, police chiefs and school principals and ask them to go to legislators. Online dissent and sharing of these images is important. But what’s going to capture the attention of the administration in a different way is for our local civic institutions to help speak to government leaders for us and say, ‘This does not represent us, or who we are.’”
There are many organizations you can donate to that are attempting to aid the migrants who have amassed in Tijuana. But just reaching out to anyone who has the clout to talk to people in Washington can move things in the right direction. Let people know that lobbing tear gas at women and children is unacceptable. It’s better than just feeling helpless and sad in front of your TV or social media feed.
SO MUCH FOR “TREATING ALL WITH CHARITY AND MUTUAL RESPECT, SPREADING THE SPIRIT OF THANKSGIVING ...